16

Here's a little background on what type of people I'm dealing with:

  • They're all in the same university that I go to. It's a faculty of engineering that has the most strict entrance exam in my country, so we generally all have high intellectual levels (But incidentally outside of class they talk like any average person).
  • Their subjects include but are not limited to fashion, sports, cars, money/work, or sometimes they just tell random funny stories, which are all topics that I can neither find interesting, nor able to talk about because I'm unaffiliated with anything related to those topics.
  • Most of them are pretty good at social interaction, so I have high standards to meet.
  • It's a grand total of 200 people(that are in the same classes as me). Most of the time, they're different groups of 5 that get together between classes or during long breaks. They're not strangers to me, in fact I've spoken to all of them at some point so I wouldn't be intruding by participating in a group conversation. But I wouldn't explicitly consider any one of them a "friend".
  • I wouldn't call them judgmental at all, in fact I think they're a pretty nice and understanding set of people.

Leaving is preferably not an option. I'm not particularly good at socializing so I want to practice by participating in as many group conversations as I can. There isn't any group that I prefer more than others; they're all the same to me.

Note: I've already tried sparking up few topics that interest me (Mathematics, history, music, space exploration, controversial topics and sometimes started debates) but each time the conversation dies out very quickly, as opposed to a heated 1-hour debate they'd had on fuel-efficiency versus speed of modern production cars.

Also, I'm aware of other questions asked on the forum that are similar to mine in topic, but they ask very different things.

EDIT: Found some interesting ideas that gave me some perspective and could be helpful for anyone who's inquiring on this topic:

https://youtu.be/CFHZyse4VGw?t=4m14s

The URL opens the video at the important bit, but of course if you'd like you can watch the full video.

  • I am in the same case, apart from reading today's title and talk about it I didn't found anything else. Usually I choose to talk about what I found was fun/strange/unexpected/new, the bombs that exploded somewhere and there are an article in about every news paper on it is not an interesting subject of discussion for me, and my colleagues don't really talk about it either. I just can't do something else because when something is not interesting to me, I just can't spend any energy into it. – Walfrat Aug 24 '17 at 12:04
9

Try to learn a bit about these subjects for future conversations.

I go to a liberal arts college, which basically means that it's a small school with a lot of people who like to talk about a lot of different things. Students do get exposed to a variety of disciplines, but everyone seems to like to specialize, and there's always a topic or two that a person loves but nobody else wants to talk about.

College in general is about several things, including giving students more exposure to the world around them. Sure, in many schools you can bury your nose in a subject and spend four years doing just that. It's very tempting; I've had to steer myself away from that mentality. But most schools aren't strictly about one subject or discipline. Sure, you're talking to people in the faculty of engineering; presumably, you're all interested in engineering. As you say, though, everyone does have other non-academic interests.

So, try to learn them! I have a couple friends who like to talk about literature - Dostoevsky's era in particular. A couple discussions about his Notes from Underground last fall left me feeling lost, so over winter break, I read the book. I thought it was okay, but it did lead me to other related books that I think are absolutely fantastic. And now, even though I'm an astrophysics-math double major, I can talk about some Russian literature!

I wouldn't say you have to read about exactly the things they're talking about. For instance, if they're interested in the engine options in the latest Mustang, you don't have to learn about that. But I would recommend finding something related to that - like maybe the computer models used to design said Mustang - that maybe you can be interested in.

For instance, I find that biology is often not too interesting for me, although I have plenty of friends who love it. One sub-discipline I do like is astrobiology. It's not a field with a tremendous amount of examples beyond Earth (!), but I find that talking about how chemical compounds needed for life arise is right up my alley. It's not convenient to inject into a conversation about, say, insect pathology, but it's a talking point that both I and my friends can find interesting.

I'd encourage you to try to take the lead in some of these discussions by introducing new topics. It sounds like you're mostly on the outskirts of the conversations. That's fine; I'm often content to sit back and let a group conversation wander where it may. But sometimes, it's nice to develop another social conversational skill: learning how to raise new topics that interest you and the group.

There's got to be some part of those other subjects you find interesting. Do you find the mathematics behind computational modeling of automobile designs interesting? How about historical fashion trends, and how they changed along with society? I'd advise trying to find those topics and sub-disciplines you find interesting. Learn a bit, and maybe you'll feel less lost and disinterested in conversations. I hope these other people will try to do the same - after all, that's one part of what college is all about.

  • 2
    I strongly agree with you. And I have no problem trying new topics. If I ever heard someone talk about Russian literature I would immediately get the books and be ready for a nice long discussion. The difference here is that I'd find Russian literature mentally stimulating, but I cannot say the same about fashion and cars. – Chady Aug 23 '17 at 17:38
  • @Chady give it a chance. Fashion can be very intelectually stimulating. Maybe you would find academic research on fashion interesting, since academic writing tends to be analytical. – user288 Aug 23 '17 at 17:43
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    @Chady I should have been a bit more specific. I'd recommend learning a part of one of those subjects that interests you - not necessarily the exact part they're interested in. It can still be a bridge between discussions. – HDE 226868 Aug 23 '17 at 18:05
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    @Chady Sometimes the whole point of a conversation topic is to NOT be mentally stimulating. People need time to relax and unwind. Especially in a highly mentally stimulating day to day environment as you describe it, they might be interested in topics you are interested in, but not in discussing them at a time they see as a break. (I don't find this type of conversation stimulating either, but in some cases relaxing.) – skymningen Aug 24 '17 at 12:17
7

The answer depends on your specific goals. If

I'm not particularly good at socializing so I want to practice by participating in as many group conversations as I can.

That's easy. Just don't leave. Sit it out, try your best to look and act interested in most of the conversations, and if you can't participate meaningfully, observe and learn. Besides learning something new by listening, you can also read about body language and try your hand at reading the body language clues of those in whatever group you're in (microexpressions are particularly challenging). That can be interesting and useful in appearing to be interested and relaxed. Ask questions. Make comments. Agree with things you agree with. Laugh if something is funny, or at least smile. Learn some really good jokes and tell a few when conversation lags and there's time to segue into something new. If you have no funny stories, you might "borrow" some and tell them as happening to someone else. But don't stress by putting pressure on yourself to contribute equally.

However, if the goal is to learn to steer conversations in a direction you want them to go, you'll have a much harder time of it, because group dynamics are at play. If you're quiet in a group, that's ok, as long as you don't exhibit boredom, disinterest, etc. (watch that body language!) But the conversation is often steered by the most talkative or charismatic people. If you're among groups of friends, it can be hard to break in. But getting to know people (usually easier in one-on-one conversations) in the group will eventually pay off.

In such a large number of groups of people, there are bound to be people whose interests overlap with yours. The more you participate - even passively - the more likely you are to find them.

2

If you're struggling to get the conversation going in the direction of a topic you want to discuss then start off by asking questions about topics you know they are already interested in. It can sometimes feel awkward for the other person if you straight away jump into a conversation that you clearly have an interest in as they may not have the same interest or they may not feel they have enough knowledge to contribute properly (not saying this is necessarily what is happening in your situation but from my own experience this is quite common).

If you start the conversation off by asking questions about things you know the group are interested in, it'll kick things off and put them at ease. It also shows that you are open to learning and in turn will encourage them to be open to learning or discussing other topics.

Once the conversation gets going, wait for a natural lull (don't jump in while things are going full steam as it can come across as too forced) and then steer the conversation to something else eg. say something like "Oh, that reminds me of xxx, have you heard of it? It's blah blah blah" and so on.

I find this is a good approach because it is encouraging both sides to actually listen and engage in the conversation, not just one person talking at another. As you said, they had a long debate over cars, which must require at least some degree of knowledge from both sides but that knowledge needs to be built before a debate like that can happen.

I know you said that you find it hard to engage in the conversations currently as there's not a lot of topics they discuss that you are affiliated with so this is a good way to build rapport and learn from others. I would then expect them to return the favor when it comes to things you are interested in.

0

Particularly in multilingual environment can it be useful to optimize your empty time, while you also train your mind. The best if the talk isn't going in your native language.

Game #1:

Find interesting words in the chat with multiple meanings. If you found, then you have two steps:

  1. Step to different language, while you translate the word into that.
  2. Step to a different language, while the word remains, but it has a different meaning on that language.

In many cases, there are multiple equivalents, from which you can construct a directed graph.

The goal is to construct the possible largest directed graph of the steps. It is a bonus win if you can find your way back to your initiating word.

For example:

  • werden (german) -> will be (english), to become (english)
    • will (german) -> to want (english)
    • Wille (german) -> wish, urge, will (english)
      • ürge (hungarian) -> Ziesel (german), Spermophilus (english)
    • bekommen (german) -> to get
      • get (hebrew) -> document (english)

This game goes much better between similar languages, and if at least one of them is your native one. Although between foreign languages or between very different languages, you can find quite surprising and funny conversions.

This game has the disadvantage, that after some steps, it distracts much better your thoughts from the topic.

Game #2:

Alternativelly: find a complex grammatical structure on one of the languages, and mirror-translate it into another. Best if the target language is your native one, because so you can feel, how awkwardly it sounds. This game is more dangerous, because if you start to smile, they will know, that you aren't there. However, you can also follow the topic, if you try to select the tricky structure from the sayings of the others.

Game #3:

Listen the sayings of others carefully. But not with the goal to actively track it (if you would have this intent, you hadn't posted this question). Do it to find interesting grammatical structures. Particularly native speakers of any language can (and do) always construct such sentences, whose grammatical structure simply isn't explained in any language course. Or... mostly, it is, but it is surprisingly non-trivial.

Analyze the group, who creates the most of the such structures. And, which rare grammatical structures is (s)he using.

You can also look for sentences as they are saying things which is a common mistake, but even native speakers often do that.


On this way, you look continuously concentrating on the topic, while nobody knows, that your spirit is in a different Universe.

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